Tiger and the Kinect team up for an impressive golf experience.
Always the master marketer, Tiger Woods waits until the weekend prior to the release of the newest iteration in the sports series that bears his name to end his PGA Tour drought. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 brings a number of new changes to the franchise. Most notably is its incorporation of the Kinect into the Xbox 360 version. Given the countless hours I have invested into this franchise on various consoles, I was quite excited to see how well the new Kinect controls performed.
Unlike the previous editions of the series on the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 which involved clasping a control, the Kinect, of course, requires nothing in your hands. You simply stand facing the Kinect and take a swing parallel to your television rather than right at it. For any clumsy readers who may have destroyed a television thanks to accidentally letting go of a controller in your follow through, this game is the answer to your prayers. The Kinect does a good job of reading your motion, allowing you to play your actual swing. Whether you are the 'grip it and rip it' type or have a slow, methodical swing, the Kinect captures the soul of your swing well. And shots that require you to shorten your swing or make other adjustments are comfortably achieved with the motion controls.
Spin control with the Kinect involves moving your hands to pull the ball left, right, down or push it forward during flight. The further you go in the desired direction and the longer your hands stay there, the more intense spin you generate. Though this method works, one mildly frustrating consequence of its implementation involves the ease with which you can generate unwanted spin by staying in your finishing pose too long. I found that in lingering in my finishing pose to nurture my ego after a solid shot, the Kinect would read my hands held high as my wishing to put forward spin on the ball. To avoid this, I had to quickly go from my finishing my swing back to facing the Kinect directly with my hands at my side. Needing to do so did not negatively impact the gameplay experience. It just cheated my pride out of soaking in the splendor of a stellar shot.
The Kinect allows you to draw or fade a shot through customizing your stance. But rather than actually reading the placement of your feet on your floor, you use a meter that allows you to set foot placement. So drawing and fading is less a matter of how you move through the swing and more so where you set the stance in a menu. I honestly prefer this given that motion gaming, in my humble opinion, is still a work in progress. The Kinect, however impressive, can misread a player. In a precision sport like golf, that is nothing you want to experience.
The only recurrent issue I faced with using the Kinect was how it read my hands. To begin your shot, you are advised to place your hands together, forming a golf grip. Yet, I found the Kinect would regularly get a little confused at the sight of my grip. I would see my golfer go into his stance, then immediately cut out of it only to immediately return to it. Over and over again. Like a jittery dance. Maybe the problem could be a previously undiagnosed hitch in my actual golf grip. In which case there is a certain local golf instructor who owes me a refund. That aside, I found that when I joined my hands together, palm to palm, the Kinect read my swing effortlessly. Given there is no apparent impact of hand placement on your in-game swing, I experienced no adverse effect on my shots from abandoning my golf grip in favor of positioning my hands for a volleyball serve.
The putting system with Kinect also performs well. As with the normal swing, you get into a putting stance to begin your stroke. The power you apply is generated by how far back you move your hands and how quickly you push through the ball. I noticed that twisting my hands did not seem to allow for any kind of opening or closing of the face of the putter. So all directional control involved the initial aiming of the shot and playing the slope. This did not hamper my experience on the greens, though. I found the Kinect did a good job of consistently reading my intended power accurately. When I left one short, I knew I had before the ball stopped rolling.
Motion tracking is not the only new control scheme afforded players. Voice controls also make a debut in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. The Kinect reads your voice very well and allows you to make a lot of key pre-shot preparations. You can view your target, check your lie, preview a putt, aim, change your club and make a number of other preparatory changes using only your voice. I really enjoyed this feature as it was responsive and supported a smooth flow of play from shot to shot.
Aside from the Kinect controls, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 also introduces other notable items to the series. Players are now able to create their own custom Country Clubs. This mode is essentially the 'online league' from the Madden series. You can invite players to join your club, earning rewards for the club thanks to the strong play of your members. Become the champion of your club and you find yourself eligible to participate in exclusive online tournaments and other events. That said, I am now recruiting for members to join the fantastically exclusive, 'Knights of the Pentaverate Country Club.' All I ask is that you be able to swing a club without spilling your beverage. If you can do that, look for us on EA's servers.
The Tiger Legacy Challenge makes its debut this year, too. This mode allows you to play through important moments in the career of Tiger Woods. You recreate pivotal shots starting with his appearance on the Mike Douglas Show at the age of 2. From there, you move through the rest of his youth golf into junior golf, amateur status and enjoy reliving the ride of his pro career. You even get to play past Tiger's present day achievements and script his eventual toppling of Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors. This mode is likely to be best enjoyed by the fans of the Tiger lore. Tiger himself takes players on the tour of his legend via voice over.
Other new items include the Skills Challenge which rewards players for in-game achievements. Course Mastery allows players to earn unlocks through improving play on specific courses. It is also important to note that the presentation for Tiger 13, like all EA franchises, is top notch. The visuals are sharply polished. The sounds, as expected, are rich and help bring the experience of TPC Sawgrass into your living room. But the key feature this year is the Kinect support for the Xbox 360. Despite the occasional issues I noticed with reading my hands, the Kinect allowed for a satisfying depth of control. It does not grant the full precision of the manual controls. Instead, it opens the door to a new gameplay experience with more control depth than a casual, motion controlled golf title.